Chapter 1: 1
“This kill is only the first step; both in becoming this territory's guardian, and in creating the hunter's agimat. Your responsibilities here will include more than hunting, much like how creating the agimat involves more than the initial kill. We will watch over you, but we cannot assist. You must do this on your own.”
Ganymede recalls their mother's words as they stalk a deer through the thick tropical underbrush of their island territory. The specialized pads on their agile feet muffle any sound that threatens to alert their prey. Step by gentle step, their tongue flicks out of their mouth to taste the air, a mental map of the area and their target forming in their mind while they slowly approach.
It's taken months to perfect this technique. Countless failures replay in her mind, her blind eye leading to numerous missed attacks and wasted time. Pursuing her prey like her siblings did, only to crash into trees and trip over roots. She’d had to resort to a blindfold, learning to navigate the territory by scent and sound alone to make up for where her vision failed her. She’d memorized the scent of every animal on this island. Infrasonic bellowing now allows her to echolocate without tipping off her prey, being just out of the hearing range of anything that isn't a dragon. All of that pays off today.
When he's mere meters away, he stills. His wings raise and arc themselves into the characteristic pouncing posture, ready to accelerate his body forward at a moment's notice. His throat lets out a low growl, the infrasound bouncing throughout the clearing the oblivious deer finds itself in. He's keenly aware of 2 sets of eyes on him, right before he strikes the final blow. Observing—as promised—but not interfering. He thinks they can feel it when he thinks:
The deer has only a split second to react, turning around just in time to see the young wyvern descend upon it in a blur of ocean blue, teeth and talons glinting in what little sunlight makes it through the forest canopy.
The ordeal is over in an instant. A quick crunch of the jaws. Ganymede takes no joy in making their prey suffer.
The proud silhouettes of their parents slowly emerge from the shadows of the rainforest. The beautiful blue hues of their second youngest are splattered with red, almost like ceremonial paint. They will remember the image of their no-longer-fledgling hunter standing prideful over their quarry for the rest of their lives.
The rest of the agimat-making process goes smoother than the initial ordeal of learning to hunt. It's not easy, but it's nowhere near as difficult as retraining auxiliary senses into primary ones.
Stripping the bones is straightforward enough for dragons. The sustenance provided by their quarry never goes unappreciated, after all. Cleanly separating the mandible from the rest of the skull without breaking it is a different story, requiring more care than the simple rending of flesh that Ganymede's used to. She finds herself deftly manipulating objects with her talons in ways she never had to before. This work is gentle.
“Patience. Balance. Care. These are all essential for the guardians of any territory to learn. You must know when to exert force and when to let go. To lie still. To let things play out as they would. You cannot just mindlessly take and take whatever you want. Otherwise, you destroy.”
It takes several agonizing minutes for Ganymede to finally dislodge her prize from its stubborn place, the remaining connective tissue giving way with a satisfying snap. With the jawbone finally free, he gently scrapes off any leftover nasty soft bits with his talons before flying off to the coast with it in his grasp. Scrubbing it into the beach's coarse, wet sand and washing it in the ocean's stinging saltwater cleans off whatever he couldn't get to himself. It'll have to lie in the sun after this, kept safely in a vigilantly-guarded sling of leaves above the forest's canopy to bleach in the blazing light for months. Ganymede had to wait longer than that to even make the initial kill. The time will pass quickly enough, and he still has plenty to learn in the meantime.
They learn when and where prey herds migrate in their territory, when they breed, and when the old can be hunted. They learn which plants their prey rely on, which ones have suitable fibers for rope-making, and which ones have useful saps and resins. They perfect their hunting technique, slowly mastering their depth and distance estimation as best they can with only one eye. Their talons get more gentle, articulate, precise. They know just how much pressure to exert with their jaws to manipulate objects without crushing them in their bite. They learn to make thread from sinew and plant matter, and to strengthen it with tree resins.
The young hunter takes form as the agimat does.
“We wear our agimat over our own hearts. It not only celebrates the first life we take, a life that was sacrificed for us to live as hunters, but it reminds us that we too will die one day, and become food for another. When others see this agimat around your neck, they will know of not only your strength, but of the responsibilities you now bear. You are a hunter now, my dear one.”
The bone is stark white now, standing out against Ganymede's deep blue scales. It softly shines in the sun, protected by a layer of resin. The shape of the mandible rests beautifully against the dip of his neck and chest, held aloft by a cord woven from plant fiber and sinew. The rest of the cord is decorated with his own shed teeth, kept safe by his parents just for this moment. He is indeed a hunter now. His agimat will never leave his body, and everyone who gazes upon it will know.